Atlanta Falcons 2013 Training Camp Preview

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview

Falcons
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The tale of the training camp tape begins for the Atlanta Falcons on July 24.

The Falcons’ season came to a disappointing end with the devastating loss to the San Francisco 49ers, and the loss of yet another Super Bowl dream. The disappointment turned the Super Bowl fires down to flickering flames, but only temporarily. The fans’ desire—and ire—are both back in full force, and the summer heat has only collectively intensified them.

The draft is done. The rookies are graduated from college. Organized team activities are done; minicamp is but a memory. Training camp is dead ahead and there’s no time for any stops. All the ‘could’ve, should’ve, would’ve’ factors will be shoved out the door this season and left mangled on the field….and that mangling begins July 24.

Roddy White put into words what everybody else is thinking. Right or wrong, his words have almost become a mantra for Falcons fans.

“Super Bowl or bust.”

Tony Gonzalez thinks this team can get it done. He put off retirement for another year so he could have a hand in the ultimate victory and achieve his ultimate goal. Veterans Asante Samuel, Steven Jackson, Osi Umenyiora and White—along with Gonzalez—aren’t getting any younger. Some have already achieved the quest for their championship ring, though not all…and not all with the Falcons.

“Super Bowl or bust.”

Victories in the postseason haven’t been a given, but they’re going to have to become the norm if this is going to be the year of the Falcon…and Falcons. It all starts during training camp, and here’s a look at what starts on July 24.

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Quarterbacks

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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Barring any extraordinary unforeseen circumstances, Matt Ryan will be the starting quarterback this season. It’s only a matter of time til the contract extension is done. He’s established, he’s ready and he knows what he’s doing. Should the circumstances change, backup Dominique Davis will be prepared to get the job done if needed. Rookie Sean Renfree is waiting in the wings and will use his time as third-string to learn the future expectations for him and embrace the learning curve that is the Falcons’ playbook.

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Running Backs and Fullbacks

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Looking for a winning season as well as a Super Bowl win is running back Steven Jackson. He’ll be the starter this season, though he can expect a valiant fight from Jacquizz Rodgers for that number one spot.

As far as fullbacks go, Bradie Ewing will be the man. Patrick DiMarco will be an effective backup for Ewing. Rookie Ronnie Wingo could well be a factor in the future, but his present will consist of watching and learning from Ewing. Devonte Campbell is another name in the mix, but he’ll have to work through his own rookie struggles first.

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Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

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The successful tandem of Roddy White and Julio Jones will continue to set the standard for the wide receivers. It’s the battle for the number three spot behind them that bears watching. Harry Douglas has certainly had his ups and downs and must step up if he’s going to make his mark, considering that Drew Davis only continues to improve his own game. James Rodgers (older brother to Jacquizz) is looking to break into the lineup this year as well.

Tight end extraordinaire Tony Gonzalez will continue to show the way for the Falcons. But if this is truly Gonzalez’ last year, the number two must be ready to bring it when called upon. Who will be the number two? Chase Coffman isn’t a rookie, but his time on the field has been limited. Levine Toilolo is a tight end rookie and, size advantage notwithstanding, would certainly like to hit the field running and carve out his own spot. Andrew Szczerba and Colin Cloherty would certainly like to make their own marks as well. Tommy Gallarda and Anthony Miller are also in the competition, but at this point they are farther down the line.

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Offensive Line

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The offensive line is up in the air, but only to a point.

Garrett Reynolds is set to be the starting right guard at this point, though Phillipkeith Manley can’t be overlooked. As far as left guard goes, Justin Blalock will be the starter. Jacques McClendon will be a viable backup for Blalock, and rookies Theo Goins and Harland Gunn will be watching and learning from both.

Peter Konz will lead the way at center, as Joe Hawley still has a lot to prove to fight his way back. Rookie Matt Smith will benefit from both the competition and the experience of the two.

As far as left tackle goes, Sam Baker is the man. Right tackle, however, is anything but a given. The competition between Lamar Holmes and Mike Johnson will be one to watch, and going into training camp it’s hard to say who will have the edge. There is rookie depth available at tackle now with Ryan Schraeder, Alec Savoie and Terren Jones; however, the key word in that equation of three is ‘rookie.’

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Defensive Line

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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It’s most likely that Osi Umenyiora will be a starter. If Jonathan Massaquoi has anything to say about it, the answer is no; however, that ‘no’ isn’t likely to materialize this season. Don’t underestimate rookie Stansly Maponga, either. Maponga is used to being the underdog and would like to surprise everyone in a big (and good) way. Fellow rookie Malliciah Goodman has already caught the eye of Umenyiora and looks to capitalize upon that notoriety at every opportunity.

What about Cliff Matthews? He may be making a move to defensive tackle. Though Jonathan Babineaux being a starter at defensive tackle is a safe bet, Peria Jerry may well be on his way out of his starting position. Travian Robertson is ready to move up; if Jerry’s performance of the last few seasons continues in training camp, Robertson will do just that.

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Linebackers

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The linebacker competition has been front and center (pardon the pun) largely because of the rooting value for rookie Brian Banks (for those who have been living under a rock, Banks’ story is extraordinary and is the epitome of how rare second chances are). Banks is determined to be on the Falcons’ roster when all is said and done, and he just may get there. Akeem Dent is looking to get the job done as a starter at middle linebacker, though he isn’t a shoo-in by any means. The tandem at outside linebacker could well consist of Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas, as expected. Kroy Biermann will likely be a new addition to this competition as well as a significant factor. Don’t count out Pat Schiller or Robert James by any means, either. Rookies Joplo Bartu, Nick Clancy and Paul Worrilow provide further depth, but not in this season’s starting lineup.

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Defensive Backs

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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding the defensive backs, and for good reason. Asante Samuel will continue to carry the torch as a starter, though Robert McClain could well give Samuels a run for his money. The rookie force is where this competition gets interesting. Highly-touted rookie Desmond Trufant is projected to start at right cornerback opposite Samuels, and that’s a lot of confidence to place in a rookie…talent notwithstanding. Robert Alford certainly won’t be far behind Trufant, and the confidence level is just as high in his abilities.

The safety tandem of Thomas DeCoud and William Moore will continue to rule the day. Shann Schillinger and Charles Mitchell will be their backups, most likely. Rookie Zeke Motta could provide further depth, and rookie Kemal Ishmael can be counted on for the same.

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Special Teams

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Matt Bryant will continue his onward march as the team’s premier kicker. Look for rookie kicker Jeremy Shelley to be primed and ready for action if the need arises. Matt Bosher reigns as punter, and Jacquizz Rodgers pulls double duty as kick returner. Dominique Franks holds strong as punt returner; Bosher will also double as holder, along with Shelley. Josh Harris' tenure as long snapper will carry on in 2013.

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2013 Breakout Candidate Jacquizz Rodgers

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Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The arrival of Steven Jackson could derail Jacquizz Rodgers’ immediate plan to be the number one running back, but don’t expect that to stop Rodgers’ full-steam-ahead attitude. With the departure of Michael Turner, Rodgers will be ready to step into his desired starting position when the time comes. Having the veteran Jackson to learn from can only assist his own quest.

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2013 Breakout Candidate Peter Konz

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Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Stepping front and center into the position of center is what Peter Konz has been waiting for. 2013 will mark the season that Konz becomes a household name for Falcons fans and opposing teams. Having the endorsement of QB Matt Ryan speaks much for Konz; look for those center shoes to be well-filled.

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2013 Breakout Candidate Cliff Matthews

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Adaptability is the name of the defense game this year, and Cliff Matthews is ready to play. From defensive end to defensive tackle and back, Matthews is determined to get the job done while keeping the opposing teams off-balance…and scoreless.

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2013 Breakout Candidate Robert McClain

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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

2013 will be the year that Robert McClain steps into his own spotlight for the team. Look for that spotlight to shine brightly on its own, even with the likes of Asante Samuels, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford as its competition. After all, it’s not just anybody who can pick off Peyton Manning to achieve his first NFL interception.

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2013 Breakout Candidate Jonathan Massaquoi

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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The ride for Jonathan Massaquoi hasn’t been easy to this point, and it won’t get any easier. However, Massaquoi is ready to step in when needed and help turn the fans’ tears of loss over John Abraham into tears of joy for continued wins.

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5 Questions That Must Be Answered During Training Camp

Falcons
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

There are five questions that have to be answered definitively during training camp. There’s a lot riding on Steven Jackson this season, and whether or not he can get it done will come to light soon enough. The goal of the defense this season is to end the nightmare of last season, of course; but can they…and will they? Where does Julio Jones fall in the WR rankings, and is that answer a clear second? Will the depth at tight end be enough to sustain a possible Super Bowl season? And going back to where it all starts, will Matt Ryan prove himself ready to step into the title of elite quarterback?

Training camp will tell all tales.

Leigh Allen is an NFL Atlanta Falcons writer for RantSports.com. Follow her on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Google+.


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